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Jonathan Bell profile: He has been a loyal lieutenant to Robinson

Peter Robinson and Jonathan Bell

Jonathan Bell was Peter Robinson's most loyal lieutenant, serving under the former DUP leader as junior minister before being promoted to Enterprise Minister in May 2015.

He is also a Robinson family friend who until recently employed the former first minister's son as his constituency office manager and his daughter-in-law as a part-time secretary.

Like many of the modern day DUP, the 46-year-old Queen's graduate began his political career with the Ulster Unionists, sitting on Craigavon council in the late 1990s. He jumped ship to the DUP in 2000 after becoming disillusioned with David Trimble's leadership.

He was one of the main organisers of 1999's Long March, a walking protest inspired by Martin Luther-King's march on Washington. It began in Derry and finished at Drumcree in Portadown where Orangemen had been prevented from parading down the nationalist Garvaghy Road. Mr Bell compared the stance of residents' groups who objected to Orange marches to that of whites who objected to blacks in South Africa.

He's a man prone to the occasional gaffe. In 2013 he compared abortion levels in the north to the Holocaust, while the previous year he attacked golf clubs for being a haven for sectarian attitudes, though he later apologised, saying it was "a clumsy use of language".

A social worker by profession, he moved from being a DUP councillor in Ards to full-time politics in 2010, following Iris Robinson's resignation from the assembly. The following year he retained the Strangford seat.

His one-year stint at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment is not regarded as a success, with the most memorable aspects being his efforts to shut down two green energy subsidy schemes, including the now infamous Renewable Heat Incentive, which was shaped by his predecessor Arlene Foster.

Much of Mr Bell's energies appear focused on China, where after numerous visits he is said to have built many contacts. He is vice-president of Ulster University's Confucius Institute.

His decision to go public on his misgivings about the botched RHI will be regarded by many as his greatest contribution to Northern Ireland, but whether he has a future in politics remains to be seen.

 

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